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1 Scroll in Collection

Kajiwara Hisako


Works in Select Public Collections

Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, Japan; Hiroshima Museum of Art, Japan; Seattle Art Museum, WA; Museum of Contemporary Art, Toyko, Japan; Nirasaki Omura Museum of Art, Yamanashi, Japan 

Selected Exhibitions

Ayashii: Decadent and Grotesque Images of Beauty in Modern Japanese Art, National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, Japan. Traveled to the Osaka Museum of History, Japan, 2021

Masterpieces of Beautiful Women Paintings, The University Art Museum, Tokyo University of the Arts, Japan, 2018

4th Collection Gallery Exhibition, MOMAK, National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, Japan, 2016-17

Akino Fuku, Kajiwara Hisako, Kitazawa Eigetsu, Akino Fuku Museum, Shizuoka, Japan, 2010

Masterworks of Japanese paintings: Collection of the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art, Fukuoka, Japan, 2005


Japanese Women Artists before and after World War II, 1930s-1950s, Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts, Tochigi, Japan, 2001

Posthumous Exhibition of Hisako Kajiwara: Continuing Drawing of Demonic Women, The Yomiuri Shimbun Osaka Head Office Cultural Division, Toyko, Japan, 1991

Other Resources

Dissertation by Michiyo Morioka, University of Washington, 1990: Changing Images of Women: Taisho-period paintings by Uemora Shoen, Ito Shoha and Kajiwara Hisako


Born 1896 Kyoto, Japan
Died 1988 Kyoto, Japan

Hisako Kajiwara was a Japanese style Nihonga painter who was active in Kyoto and one of the last to paint Bijin-ga, a genre dedicated to images of female beauty. While the genre form was traditional, early on Kajiwara challenged it to confront notions of idealized feminine beauty. At the beginning of her career she exposed the plight of poor working women, using them as subjects for her works. After WWII her palette and subject shifted to grander women who were depicted with bright color, bold lines and often modern dress.

Kajiwara was born in Kyoto to a prosperous family. Her father was a sake producer. She came of age when Japan was beginning to shift from the old ways of the Meiji Period (1868-1912) to the Taisho era (1912-1922), a dynamic era where concepts of individualism and democracy not only challenged tradition but asserted a modern status for women.

Kajiwara developed an early interest in poetry and painting. While in secondary school she studied with Chigusa Soun, a progressive Nihonga painter who used factory workers and laborers as his subjects. Nihonga, a traditional painting style that uses mineral pigments and ink on silk or paper, went through a transition in the late 19th and early 20th century when the traditional approach was combined with the stylistic innovations of western art.

Encouraged by her teacher who reinforced the idea that painting should illustrate the truths of our human experience and influenced also by the women’s liberation movement, Kajiwara refused the conventional path of marriage to pursue her art. After graduation, she apprenticed to Nihonga painter Kikuchi Keigetsu who spent time in Europe and was active in introducing to Japan experimental European approaches to painting.

Kajiwara’s first exhibition was in 1918 at the Kokuten Society, a group of artists in Kyoto who were protesting the official salon and presenting modern Nihonga works. The painting she submitted, Train Station in Early Evening, was selected as one of fifteen works out of nearly four hundred entries. It depicts an exhausted waitress resting on a bench. The subject of the work was a far cry from the traditional Bijin painting of geishas or other female entertainers. The Kokuten Society was founded on the idea of free expression and Kajiwara’s early participation with them illustrates her commitment to be part of a progressive redefinition of Japanese art.

The Bijin-ga genre that Kajiwara remains associated with emerged during the 17th century when Japan was largely a feudalistic society based in patriarchy. Bijin representations of women were constructed out of this male dominated society that based their concepts of the ideal woman on courtesans, dancers or Kabuki actors. Bijin women were a symbol of the ‘floating world,’ where every aspect of a women’s posture, clothing, make up and dress expressed ideals of beauty and refinement. White face make up, red highlights and a refined hairstyle are all typical elements of this genre style. Kajiwara’s desire was to honestly convey the reality of women’s lives. As a young, progressive artist she attempted to humanized the traditional Binja form, broadening the meaning of both feminity and beauty.

The scroll in the Wolfson collection of a young apprentice geisha was painted early in Kajiwara’s life as she was working through the correct approach to take to the Bijin-ga genre. Maiko shows a woman in traditional geisha make-up and clothing but rather than looking demurely down or seducing through dance gestures, this maiko looks forward, her gaze direct and outward.

In 1920 Kajiwara submitted her work to the official Teiten salon. Surprisingly, her paintings were accepted but greeted with dislike as her Bijin images were not the idealized beauties of tradition but sympathetic renderings of individuals from the working class. Her insertion of realism into the traditional artform was dismissed by critics. Subsequently, her works were regularly rejected by the Teiten.

In the early 1930s Kajiwara’s works took a noted change of direction. She softened her unorthodox approach and focused on making works that were more saleable. Her father’s bankruptcy may have prompted this practical change in approach as she was obligated to help support him and her younger sister. She made paintings that would appeal to the marketplace. During this time she also became a teacher at the Osaka Prefectural School of Vocation for Women.

In 1933 she formed the Nanakusakai group with six other women artists. At this point, Kajiwara began to refer to her earlier art as “decadent” and had fully adjusted her approach to conform to the markedly more conservative tone now reflected in the broader society. The more restrained approach included images of women engaged in leisure activities as well as maiko and geisha’s who were part of the entertainment business, a more traditional subject matter for Bijin paintings.

After WWII Kajiwara’s content shifts again and her women become modern and are often adorned with Western clothing. In 1947 her painting Evening Coolness was awarded the highest honor at the Teiten salon. It depicts a heavy set, well-dressed, middle-aged woman who is taking in the night air. This is neither the bold statement of working class women Kajiwara asserted in her youth or the idealized image of the traditional Bijin, but a broader, more realistic, modern feminine ideal.

In the late 1950s Kajiwara did more representations of entertainers in traditional costumes and postures. At this point in her later life, she had established herself as a Bijin-ga artist and was an important artist within the traditional salon, where she served as a juror for many years. Her legacy is as a Bijin-ga painter who was instrumental in moving the traditional genre into the 20th century where confident, healthy, forthright women represent a modern post war Japan. She died in 1988 after five years of illness.

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